Sending Support for Our Soldiers

 “For the veteran, thank you for bravely doing what you’re called to do so we can safely do what we’re free to do.” – Unknown

VeteransMonthThis month as we celebrate our veterans, we take a moment as a nation to thank the soldiers for their service of ensuring our freedom and safety. We would also like to acknowledge and thank those who continue to support our veterans once they return home.

Our first shout out goes to the Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans emerging back into civilian life may face several challenges, such as PTSD and substance misuse. VA’s National Center for PTSD created a series of short videos for patients and providers to help recognize the symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).  PTSD threatens our vets with the risk of developing alcohol and other substance dependence. The short videos help highlight treatment options, including cognitive processing therapy and medicated assisted treatment.  In addition, recognizing the nation’s opioid crisis and use of opioids for veterans in managing pain, the VA created an Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) which provides guidelines to physicians on opioid therapy for chronic pain. The OSI toolkit includes a host of resources for both clinicians and patients on topics such as responsible use of opioids for chronic pain, effective treatment for PTSD, cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain, etc.

Our second shout out goes to the Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs). For veterans who come into contact with the justice system, one of the ways that our society stands by them is through VTCs. These courts are designed to serve veterans facing substance use and mental health disorders and have come in contact with the justice system through structure, treatment, and mentoring. VTCs are modeled after drug courts, which follow the National Association of Drug Court Professional Drug Court’s Ten Key Components with the added caveat of (1) peer to peer mentorship with another military service member and (2) connecting veterans to services available to them through the VA. These important distinctions create a space for veterans seeking treatment and provide a structured environment to get their lives back on track. Similar to adult drug treatment courts, VTCs provide wraparound services to assist veterans with housing, education, parenting skills, career placement, and counseling. The ultimate goal for the court team members is to be a resource for veterans as they work through their substance use and mental health treatment.

Our final shout out goes to Judge Robert Russell. Judge Russell opened the doors of the first VTC in 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Since then over 300 VTCs have emerged throughout the United States and many more are in the planning stages. Having seen anecdotal success, VTCs have peaked researchers’ interest and are starting to be studied. Our first edition of Drug Court Review will feature VTCs and present research findings on topics such as VTC participant identification, importance of peer mentorship in VTCs, issues dealing with procedural justice, legitimacy, and legalizing treatment, and a legal commentary on prosecutorial veto in VTCs. This review, conducted under JPO’s National Drug Court Resource Center will be released this winter. As you read the drug court review on VTCs, you’ll see this is just the beginning and there’s a dire need for further research into VTCs.

Our office continues to support veterans by being a resource for treatment court professionals. I encourage you to look for ways you can directly or indirectly support veterans as well.

Preeti Menon is the Justice Programs Office’s senior associate director and project director of the National Drug Court Resource Center